Maternity nursing is an umbrella term for the wide range of services nurses offer to new mothers and their babies. Some specialize in labor and delivery, where they assist during childbirth, while others work in neonatal units and care for newborns until the young patients are ready to be released.
All maternity nurses need at least an undergraduate degree in nursing. Some facilities hire nurses who have a two-year associate degree, offered by community colleges and technical schools, while others prefer applicants with a bachelor of science in nursing, offered by four-year universities. There are no degree programs specifically for maternity nursing, although many colleges offer elective courses in neonatal nursing, obstetrics and related fields. Maternity nurses often need an advanced degree to move into supervisory roles or to care for critically ill newborns. Vanderbilt University, for example, offers a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Master of Science program.
Maternity nurses must earn a registered nurse license by completing the NCLEX-RN exam offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Some nurses also earn optional certification in several aspects of maternity nursing through organizations such as the National Certification Corporation. It offers certification in fetal heart monitoring, inpatient obstetric nursing, neonatal pediatric transport and related areas.
While some facilities hire new graduates, others prefer that maternity nurses have some experience in either adult or neonatal nursing. For example, some hospitals favor applicants who have one two to years' experience working with adult patients before moving to the maternity ward. Aspiring maternity nurses can also gain experience through internship or residency programs, offered to nursing students and recent graduates. These programs typically include one-on-one mentorship and ample opportunities to play a hands-on role in the delivery room or nursery.
Skills and Personal Characteristics
Maternity nurses not only need strong technical skills and clinical knowledge, they must also have compassion, patience, and excellent people and communication skills. Those who care for both mother and newborn often play a teaching role, instructing the mother on everything from breastfeeding to the proper way to position the baby in the crib. They specialize not only in a new mother’s physical health but also her mental health, and must be adept in spotting the signs of postpartum depression and recommending treatment or therapy options. Maternity nurses who assist during labor and delivery must perform well under pressure so they can quickly intervene should complications arise.